Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) Table of Contents (Clicking on the links below will take you to that part of this article) Life Philosophical Writings TheologyLifeThe father of medieval scholasticism and one of the most eminent of English prelates was born at Most Piedmont in 1033. Anselm died at Canterbury, England on April 21, 1109. While a boy he wished to be a monk, but his father forbade it. When he was about twenty-three Anselm left home to live in Burgundy and France.
After three years he went to Bec in Normandy where his celebrated countryman, Lanfranc, was prior. Here he became a monk (1060).
He succeeded Lanfranc as prior in 1063, and became abbot in 1078. The abbey had possessions in England, which called Anselm frequently to that country.
He was the general choice for archbishop of Canterbury when Lanfranc died (1089).
However, the king, William Rufus, preferred to keep the office vacant, and apply its revenues to his own use. In 1093 William fell ill and, literally forced Anselm to receive an appointment at his hands. He was consecrated December 4 of that year. The next four years witnessed a continual struggle between king and archbishop over money matters, rights, and privileges. Anselm wished to carry his case to Rome, and in 1097, with much difficulty, obtained permission from the king to go.
At Rome he was honored and flattered, but he obtained little practical help in his struggle with the king. He returned to England as soon is he heard of the death of William in 1100. But a difficulty arose over lay investiture and homage from clerics for their benefices. Thought a mild and meek man, Anselm had adopted the Gregorian views of the relation between Church and State, and adhered to them with the steadiness of conscientious conviction. The king, though inclined to be conciliatory, was equally firm from motives of self-interest.
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He had a high regard for Anselm, always treated him with much consideration, and personal relations between them were generally friendly. Nevertheless there was much vexatious disputing, several fruitless embassies were sent to Rome, and Anselm himself went thither in 1103, remaining abroad till 1106. His quarrel with the king was settled by compromise in 1107 and the brief remaining period of his life was peaceful. He was canonized in 1494. Back to Table of Contents Philosophical Writings As a metaphysician Anselm was a realist, and one of his earliest works, De fide Trinitatis, was an attack on the doctrine of the Trinity as expounded by the nominalist Roscelin.
His most celebrated works are the Monologium and Proslogium, both aiming to prove the existence and nature of God. The Cur deus homo, in which he develops views of atonement and satisfaction which are still held by orthodox theologians. The two first named were written at Bec. The last was begun in England ‘ in great tribulation of heart,’ and finished at Schiavo, a mountain of Apulia, where Anselm enjoyed a few months of rest in 1098.
His meditations and prayers are edifying and often highly impressive. In the Monologium he argues that from the idea of being there follows the idea of a highest and absolute, i. e. self-existent Being, from which all other being derives its existences revival of the ancient cosmological argument.
In the Proslogium the idea of the perfect being-‘ than which nothing greater can be thought ‘-cannot be separated from its existence. For if the idea of the perfect Being, thus present in consciousness, lacked existence, a still more perfect Being could be thought, of which existence would be a necessary metaphysical predicate, and thus the most perfect Being would be the absolutely Real. In its most simple form, this first version of the ontological argument is as follows: 1. The term ‘God’ is defined as the greatest conceivable being 2. Real existence (existence in reality) is greater than mere existence in the understanding 3.
... even better. As God is described as the greatest, then this helps to prove his existence. Rene Descartes supported Anselm’s argument, he had ... minds exists, then it is logical to assume that clear ideas which come into your mind are true. His proposition began ... idea of God is one of a supremely perfect being, and one of the attributes of perfection is existence. This is similar to Anselm ...
Therefore, God must exist in reality, not just in the understanding. Anselm’s main intuition is that the greatest possible being has every attribute which could make it great or good. Existence in reality is one such attribute. Anselm’s actual argument is more complex than this, and is often reconstructed as a reductio ad absurdum (reduction to absurdity).
Reductio arguments have two parts: a target argument, and a concluding argument which reduces the target argument to absurdity.
His argument begins with some general assumptions which include the idea that (a) God exists in the understanding (b) Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone. The first assumption simply means that we understand and can consistently think about the concept of God (whereas we could not think about the concept of a square circle, for instance).
The second means that a real x is greater than an imaginary or merely conceived x (e. g. a real $100 is greater than an imaginary $100).
Gaunilo, a contemporary monk of Anselm, wrote an attack on Anselm’s argument titled ‘on behalf of the fool.’ He offers several criticisms, the most well known is a parody on Anselm’s argument in which he proves the existence of the greatest possible island.
If we replaced ‘an island than which none greater can be conceived’ for ‘something than which nothing greater can be conceived’ then we would prove the existence of that island. Gaunilo’s point was that we could prove the existence of almost anything using Anselm’s style of argument. The ontological argument is therefore unsound. Back to Table of ContentsTheologyThe key to Anselm’s theory of the Atonement was the idea of ‘satisfaction.’ In justice to himself and to the creation, God, whose honor had suffered injury by man’s sin, must react against it either by punishing men, or, since he was merciful, the death of the God-man, which will more than compensate for the injury to his honor, on the ground of which lie forgives sin. Incidental features of his theory are 1) sin as a violation of a private relation between God and man, 2) the interaction of the divine righteousness and grace, and 3) the necessity of a representative suffering. In the Reformed doctrine, sin and the Atonement took on more of a public character, the active obedience of Christ was also emphasized, and the representative relation of Christ to the law brought to the front.
... well. God, according to Anselm, is a being "than which nothing greater can be conceived" (Anselm 29). According to this concept God could not ... is the being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and only God fits this description" (Anselm 28). The nonexistence of that ... evident through reflection on nature, God's creations. A metaphor of a watch aids his argument that when parts or organisms ...
In the seventeenth century the forensic and penal justice of God came into prominence. Christ was conceived of as suffering the punishment of our sin, -a complete equivalent of the punishment which we must have suffered, -on the ground of which our guilt and punishment are pardoned. In the following century, Owen held that the sufferings of Christ for sinners were not but ide in. In more recent discussions along this line, Hodge maintains that Christ suffered neither the kind nor degree of that which sinners must have suffered, but any kind and degree of suffering which is judicially inflicted in satisfaction of justice and law. There has indeed been no theory of the work of Christ which has not conceived of it is a satisfaction. Even the so-called moral influence theories center in this idea.
It is therefore evident how fundamental is the idea of satisfaction presented by Anselm. Only it must be observed first that in the evolution of the Christian doctrine of salvation the particular way in which the satisfaction was realized has been differently conceived; and secondly, if the forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ takes place only when the ethical nature of God is satisfied, the special form in which the satisfaction is accomplished is of subordinate importance. In one class of views-the representative or juridical-the satisfaction was conditioned on a unique and isolated divine-human deed-the death or the life and death of Christ; in the other theories, the satisfaction is threefold in the expression of the divine good-will, through the life and death of Christ, in the initial response of sinners to forgiving grace, and in the final bringing of all souls to perfect union with the Father.